I think the Supporters Shield should be worth more than MLS Cup. It's a more difficult task. You play every team, "unbalanced" schedule or no. The full season tests depth and adaptability. The full season shows how a team deals with all kinds of stadiums, all kinds of weather, injuries, travel, you name it. It's a greater achievement all around, and as far as I'm concerned it's more valuable. I think pennies should be worth more than dimes. Pennies are larger. They have more metal. They're more colorful, and stand out more in your coin jar. Pennies have more and better designs than dimes. Pennies also have the better President. While FDR faced challenges, Lincoln's task was greater, and the fact that we are still one country is his greatest legacy. It's a better coin all around, and as far as I'm concerned it's more valuable.
Now that the real season is about to begin, let's slow down, crane our necks, and lookie-loo at the dead bodies on the side of the road. In no particular order:
PHILADELPHIA: Wait, something Nick "King Midas" Sakiewicz was involved in hasn't turned out as planned? That's completely heard of. Assuming this team doesn't get repossessed for back taxes, the fanbase should be enough to dig this franchise out of its Nowak-shaped pit, but the fanbase shouldn't have to go through this in the first place. And don't lump in Union fans with general Philadelphia sports fan lowlifes, either. The U ranks pretty high on the - hey, I never did that power ranking!, did I? New England is at the top, LA is last (i.e., Revolution fans are infinitely more likeable than Red Sox/Patriots fans, and Galaxy fans spend their waking moments wishing they were more like Lakers fans). Anyhoo, this team will compete surprisingly well next year, but will just miss the playoffs, I reckon.
DALLAS: Oh, wait, FCD fans are so much better than Cowboys fans, it's almost criminal. Put them in a tie with Revs fans. The parallels between the FC's and the Revolution are weep-worthy. Both teams have come agonizingly close to the big prize, both have dealt with huge adversity better than Galaxy fans do with two-game losing streaks, both are MLS originals with deep soccer roots in American history who have at times seemingly been run by a cabal designed to destroy the sport. It's simplistic to blame all of Dallas's (Dallas'?) disappointments on missing one man, but David Ferreira really was that important. If he stays healthy, they contend and then some...on the other hand, maybe being not quite so dependent on one guy might work, who knows.
VANCOUVER: Such a promising start to the year, but inconsistency has...wait, really? They're in the playoffs? Huh.
COLORADO: Remember fifty years ago when Dallas and Colorado were in MLS Cup? Oh, wait, it was two years ago. It is a thin line between genius and stupid in MLS. Didn't help that while Salt Lake turned their miracle MLS Cup and built a team that was actually stronger, Colorado chose Plan B. Pareja probably gets one more year to re-re-re-regroup.
MONTREAL: Jesse Marsch is nowhere near done troubling the world. I'm glad the Impact are a country and a half and a language and a half away from me, that's all.
NEW ENGLAND: Not the disaster I expected. If they knock down that POS baseball stadium in Boston and put in a decent soccer stadium, this franchise could really go places.
PORTLAND: Kind of a lot depends on whether Caleb Porter is Olympics Caleb Porter or Akron Caleb Porter. Has the money and fanbase...but so did Aron Winter.
COLUMBUS: "Small market team up for sale" encapsulates every issue with the Crew right now, with a side of "Thank God we're not the Blue Jackets." They'd actually be in the playoffs under last year's system...but they probably wouldn't be in the playoffs for very long. Fan base might be easily energized by the right coaching hire, but they'd have to make a serious offer to Lanus for Guillermo Barros Schelotto, and short of him, who would excite the Crew faithful on a budget? (I'm not entirely sure Frankie Hejduk is head coach material.)
TORONTO: I don't want to take the Lord's name in vain, but Satan help these guys.
CHIVAS USA: Menor que un club.
Anyway, the above teams played 34 exhibition games, and the teams below will play real games. In the words of Daria Morgendorffer, it's a sick sad world.
HOUSTON at CHICAGO The freaking Dynamo. It's not just that they're perennial contenders. It's that the lower they finish in the standings, the more dangerous they are. Seriously. Count the Clashquakes as proto-Dynamo, and look where they and Houston have finished in the regular season when they've won MLS Cup. If any team can go road warrior to MLS Cup - again - it's this bunch. All it takes is Tally Hall to go NHL playoff goalie, really. The Fire look better on paper, but they're so damned inconsistent. I hate to do things like count past experience in favor of one team - trends like that are made to be broken - but the Dynamo have been through what "Red Dwarf" calls "brown trousers time" before, and this version of the Fire have not.
Oh, yeah. If Houston beats Chicago tonight, then they get to work with home games until MLS Cup. (And if the Whitecaps come out of the West, then they host that, too.) One of the things Houston has neglected to do this year? Lose at home. Do not be surprised if the Dynamo make a run here. Let's say Houston goes through on a bad call, and we spend all offseason arguing about the referees.
VANCOUVER at LOS ANGELES I'm picking the Whitecaps. So should you. If Vancouver doesn't win - who cares? They were underdogs who backed into the playoffs against the defending champs on the road, duh, oh course they didn't win. No one will mind - you can even say it was a joke pick. But if the Caps win? You'll be Nostradamus, only actually able to predict the future. Let's say Vancouver goes through on a bad call, and we spend all offseason arguing about the referees.
SALT LAKE vs. SEATTLE Now we're into the playoffs proper, and great Caesar's ghost, these are some tasty matchups. If Royals v. Sounders were the only showdown of the round, it would still be amazing. Instead, it's one of at least three that are going to be pure grudge-cuddles. I know you love the Supporters Shield and all, but try to put yourself in the couch of a casual fan - DC is playing New York, Kansas City is going to play either of their two closest rivals, and this is going to be an awesome rematch. You're not going to watch for what, philosophical reasons? Fine, watch Stoke City and ask why MLS doesn't have players like that - see if I care.
Enough dancing around the fact that I have no idea who's going to win this series. I'm tempted to go with the Sounders, literally for no better reason than a reversal of last year - lower-seeded home team wins a decisive victory to heat-shield their way through the second leg. I think when Salt Lake did it last year, the intensity of the effort left their ducks comparatively sitting for the Galaxy...but the Sounders (assuming it is the Sounders) won't have the exact same problem, for reasons we'll get to. Let's say Seattle goes through on a bad call, and we spend all offseason arguing about the referees.
DC UNITED v. NEW YORK If I have to sell this one to you, gentle reader, you're probably in the wrong blog. I'm going to assume, per the Red Bulls announcement this morning, that Red Bull Arena will be good to go Saturday. Neither I, Governor Christie, nor President Obama can say yet how the hurricane will affect attendance, what with the entire state of New Jersey being concerned with bigger things. It's unfortunate if that turns out to be the reason New York has another disappointment in the playoffs. Hans Backe is going to screw up a season, he should have to work for it, not let Mother Nature do it for him. Let's say DC goes through on a bad call, and we spend all offseason arguing about the referees.
SAN JOSE v. LOS ANGELES If I have to sell this one to you, gentle reader, you're probably dead. Having said that, I sort of get a Doonesbury smile at the thought of Omar Gonzalez's (Gonzalez'?) unflattering remarks coming back to haunt Los Angeles. So the premise is, the Quakes would not have been sufficiently motivated to beat the Galaxy in the playoffs otherwise? It took Omar to wake them up? Kaythen.
I'm not even going to pretend that I'm unbiased about this - so much so that I can't tell whether my reasons for thinking the Galaxy will win aren't just emotional rationalizations. But here's that playoff home-and-home thing again. The last time a San Jose team won the Supporters Shield, they strolled into the Home Depot Center and fell flat on their faces. And that Galaxy team was coached by Steve Sampson.
Then there's the whole hugely irritating never-say-die nonsense. That all came about because the Quakes have been highly inspiring about coming back from behind and snatching victory in the dying moments. You know what's generally not a wonderful idea in the playoffs? Falling behind.
In 2003, though, the Quakes fell about as far behind as a team could, came back, then danced merrily through to win it all. And that team was also coached by Frank Yallop. Amazing how little changes in nine years.
You as a neutral fan think you want San Jose to win, on the grounds that more LA fan crowing would be well beyond torture. If you want the future of MLS to be Steven Lenhart elbowing a defender in the face forever, that's on you. Let's say the Galaxy go through on a bad call, and we spend all offseason arguing about the referees.
What? Oh, come on. I picked Vancouver as a joke, for crying out loud. (See how that works? Beautiful, isn't it? Can't win money by picking favorites, ask any senior citizen betting his Social Security check at the track.)
SEATTLE (I guess) v. LOS ANGELES (or not) New semifinal format this year - it's the same as the first round. Which is a huge help to the lower seed. The only thing funnier than the Sounders botching their chance at a home path to the final is if Vancouver is in this spot, and the Cascadia Cup is suddenly extremely meaningful.
Yeah, I like that scenario. Vancouver to the semifinal after all, for real this time. (Hint - if it doesn't happen, I'm claiming this was a joke.) But I think Seattle needs to go through, because (1) they're sort of a lot better, and (2) Open Cup rematch!
KANSAS CITY v. WHOEVER I picked Sporting to host and win MLS Cup way back in March, so I'm going to stick with that.
(Yeah, like hell I did. But are you going to go back and check? No, you are not.)
(I'm pretty sure I said LA would host and repeat, but then, so did everyone else back when Buddle and Juninho were re-signed.)
LOVEString Park would be a wonderful venue for MLS Cup, but that doesn't mean MLS will rig it to happen. Either of Kansas City's likely opponents have soccer-specific stadia as well, and Houston's is brand-spanking new. Chicago and Houston are fairly crummy road teams, or at least were in the regular season, so I think the likely scenario here is tie in game one, win in Kansas. Then repeat in the semifinal, since DC is also pretty unreliable outside the District. Let's send have Kansas City win the whole thing on a bad call by the ref, and we can all decide it's just part of the game and deal with it like adults.
(The Open Cup was not decided on a bad call, you whiners.)